HUMAN RIGHTS, AMERICAN STYLE, PART 3
Without electricity and water, 52 degrees in the shade, resist or burst! according to the American " convention "
"Under Saddam's regime, despite all the post-war constraints, it took 48 days to re-establish electricity in Baghdad after the destruction of the first Gulf War," says Nahla, artist and owner of a Baghdad art gallery. And she adds indignantly : "Why have the Americans, the most powerful country on the planet, not restored it more than four months after having destroyed our networks and infrastructure? See how water is getting rare in these boiling hot temperatures. I have a child of 7 years old and I suffer twice over to see him enduring this terrible heat. Just think of the millions of deprived Iraqis, babies, the ill, the aged, who are suffocating in the heat. How dare people in the American administration talk about our well-being when they are torturing us?" At that very moment the electricity was cut. "There you are!" cried Nahla. "We are entering four hours of hell!" Actually, the instant the ventilation stopped, a dreadful heat enveloped us. It was 52°C in the shade today. And it is like that for months.
The whole week I stayed in Baghdad, people never stopped complaining about the deterioration in their living conditions since the arrival of the American forces. Even those who believed the invasion was the evil for the good, no longer hesitate to say that the American army has colonised Iraq to seize its oil. "They have been spending our money for four months without concern for us, or our essential needs like electricity, water and security. Iraq has never had abductions of children or women for ransom before. I've been hearing about this for a few weeks and I think that it is extremely serious for Iraqi society. It really was better in Saddam's time, believe me. Today, I cannot stop crying about what has become of my city, Baghdad, disfigured by bombs, looting, vandalism and all this machinery of war, the soldiers and the barbed wire that criss-crosses our streets. It is as though we are living in a vast prison under the yoke of the United States."
Such chaos is reigning in the country that many people are saying that they miss the stability of Saddam's time. The absence of authority has allowed the rapid development of all sorts of social scourges. In the hospitals, they are saying that the victims of the violence which is destroying what remains of Iraqi social fabric are being admitted in the hundreds. Many Iraqis maintain that the occupation forces want this chaos; they cannot believe that the occupiers would have difficulties in controlling the situation. In Nahla's opinion, an army that can cross the world to invade Iraq and possesses an arsenal (land, sea, air) sufficient to occupy the entire planet, certainly has the capacity to satisfy the elementary rights of Iraqis. "It is impossible for me to believe otherwise," she added, continuing, "I will give you the example of the trouble they impose on us, and mostly to poor people, just to buy a bottle of gas. You have to join a 500 meter line-up, under the burning sun for hours, to get gas. Many people don't have the strength to withstand this form of collective punishment that the occupation army is imposing on us. Is it acceptable to treat people in this manner? We could be served ten times as fast if they had 10 wickets instead of one. It's the same thing for the thousands of Iraqis without salary who begin to form endless lines at dawn in order to get a few dollars. I find this humiliating for my people and that's why I was saying that I cannot stop myself from crying when I go out in Baghdad."
At that point the young woman forced back the surge of tears which dimmed her eyes. The moment was as painful to me as to the Iraqi artist. I thought it best to change the subject and asked Nahla what she thought of the Governance Council. She smiled slightly and then, "We have seen nothing positive coming from the Americans. And this is also true of the Governance Council which they have woven for us."
The artist maintained that any Iraqi speaking in good faith would say two things about this famous Council. "First off, they in no way represent the Iraqi people, but rather foreign interests and those who represent them; and next, it has been structured in a way which will not advance the reconstruction of Iraq, but will sow discord and division among Iraqis." On this point, Nahla's worries are shared by many Iraqis and by foreign observers who think that the composition of the Council is not in the best interest of the Iraqi people. To prove her point, Nahla continued, "Since its constitution, and despite the critical problems that we are living out, its members have done nothing besides fight among themselves under the auspices of the American Paul Bremer. Moreover, all that the press has reported on this subject, corruption scandals, lack of integrity, diversion of funds, have discredited the majority of its members. My opinion is that this Council has no authority, nor legitimacy.
Politicised or not, Iraqis, both women and men, are beginning to organise to protest the attitude of the American authorities towards the dramatic situation of the population. In increasing numbers, they are taking to the streets after 35 years of dictatorship. This is a new form of struggle and Iraqi activists say they are counting on the support of international organisations in order to struggle effectively for their democratic rights and the end of the occupation of their country.
Baghdad, 2 August 2003
Zehira Houfani (writer and journalist) Montreal member of the Iraq Solidarity Project
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